RAVENS NOTEBOOK: With Cundiff in the fold, Ravens turn attention towards other free agents

Street Talk RAVENS NOTEBOOK: With Cundiff in the fold, Ravens turn attention towards other free agents

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MOBILE, Ala. – The Baltimore Ravens accomplished one of the major goals on their checklist when they retained Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff with a five-year, $15 million contract.

Now, they’re turning their attention toward trying to lock up other pending free agents such as punter Sam Koch and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

“We’re going to try to keep as many of our guys as we can,” Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said Wednesday at the Senior Bowl.

Cundiff tied the NFL single-season record with 40 touchbacks and connected on 26 of 29 field goals after beating out former Pro Bowl kicker Shayne Graham.

“Billy really had a tremendous year,” DeCosta said. “His impact on our team this year was definitely important, both as a field goal kicker and also as a kickoff guy. We’re excited for Billy. He’s a great person and a great kicker. He makes the Baltimore Ravens better.”

A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Ngata recorded a career-high 5 ½ sacks last season with 65 tackles, five pass deflections and one fumble recovery.

Drafted in the first round out of the University of Oregon, Ngata has emerged as one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the league.

“He’s not only one of our best players, he’s one of our best guys,” DeCosta said. “His leadership, off-the-field intangibles, work ethic, he’s just a special guy.”

The 6-foot-4, 350-pounder is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and keeping him will be an expensive proposition.

A contract extension for Ngata could exceed the blockbuster deal inked by Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, a five-year, $68 million deal that includes $40 million in guaranteed money.

Ngata could eventually wind up making as much as $70 million to $75 million with over $40 million guaranteed.

Because of the 30 percent rule in the uncapped year stating that a player’s salary can’t go up more than 30 percent per year, the Ravens may be unable to work a deal for Ngata at this point.

So, they could keep Ngata by designating him as their franchise player. Last year, the franchise tag for defensive tackles cost $7.003 million.

“Clarence Brooks has really done a great job with Haloti, but a lot of it’s really on Haloti,” DeCosta said. “He works extremely hard. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s made himself into one of the better players in the league.”

A Pro Bowl alternate, Koch averaged 43.6 yards per punt and placed 39 punts inside the 20-yard line last season.

Koch was in contract talks with the Ravens following the 2008 season. However, discussions hit an impasse. Team officials have informed Koch’s agent that they want to retain him.

“Personally, I think that Sam’s one of the best punters out there,” DeCosta said. “He had a great year for us this year He’s really one of our key guys and we’ll try to get it done.”

AUSTIN HIRED: The Ravens made it official, hiring former University of Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to fill their secondary coach vacancy.Austin had already agreed to terms, but hadn’t signed off on a contract as his agent negotiated his deal.

Now, team officials have confirmed that the deal has been finalized.

Austin takes over the position previously held by newly-promoted defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

"He’s a great coach and a great guy, and he’ll do big things in Baltimore," said former NFL defensive back Marquand Manuel, who played for Austin with the Seattle Seahawks. "I’m just happy for him. He’s the real deal."

Austin, 45, was part of former Florida coach Urban Meyer’s staff last season, leaving Gainesville after one season with Meyer resigning in December.

Austin coached the Arizona Cardinals’ secondary from 2007 to 2009, making it to the Super Bowl once.

Prior to joining the Cardinals, he coached the Seattle Seahawks from 2003 to 2006 as they reached the Super Bowl once.

Austin has previous coaching stints at Michigan, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Penn State.

A native of Sharon, Pa., Austin was a three-year starter at defensive back at the University of Pittsburgh.

MASON HAS SURGERIES: Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason had two surgeries Wednesday in Philadelphia to repair a sports hernia as well as his broken right finger, his representative confirmed.

Mason already had surgery on his finger during the regular season, having a screw inserted.

One day after the Ravens’ AFC divisional playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mason said he would need to undergo some procedures.

"I’ve got to get my finger fixed,” Mason said. “I’ve got some other things, minor things that need to get done. Once the procedures are done, I’ll be fine and allow myself to rehab.”

Mason, 37, caught 61 passes for 802 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Mason is considered likely to return for one more season, but will contemplate retirement. He’s due a $4.5 million base salary in the final year of a two-year, $8 million contract.

"My one and only goal is to go to a Super Bowl and leave with a Super Bowl,” Mason said. “It has eluded me for the last 14 years. Do I come back another year and try it again? I’m not coming back for anything else if that’s the case.”

MAKING THE ROUNDS: The Ravens are staying busy at the Senior Bowl, scouting the practices and talking with the prospects.

Among the many players they’ve talked with this week: Hawaii wide receiver Greg Salas, Texas cornerback Curtis Brown, South Alabama wide receiver Courtney Smith, Tulsa running back Charles Clay, Alabama tight end Preston Dial, Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker, Mississippi State linebacker Chris White, Louisville running back Bilal Powell, Virginia long snapper Danny Aiken, Slippery Rock offensive lineman Brandon Fusco, North Carolina defensive back Da’Norris Searcy, Michigan offensive lineman Stephen Schilling, Wisconsin offensive lineman John Moffitt, San Diego State wide receiver Vincent Brown, Boise State wide receiver Austin Pettis, Nebraska tight end Mike McNeill, Washington quarterback Jake Locker, Washington linebacker Mason Foster, Virginia Tech defensive back Rashad Carmichael, Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews and East Carolina wide receiver Dwayne Harris.

Harris runs the 40-yard dash in the high 4.3, low 4.4 range, and he said he got the impression from the Ravens that they want to add some deep threats to the offense. 

“I had a good conversation with them,” Harris said. “I think the interview went great. They said they needed some receivers who can make plays and can run fast, and I’m one of those guys who can make plays.”

The Ravens will travel back to Baltimore today. Most of the scouts and coaches clear out of town today and watch Saturday’s game on tape.

“The process starts,” DeCosta said. “This is the best time of year for us scouts and coaches in terms of building the team.”

AL SAUNDERS CAN’T WAIT: For newly-hired Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator, Al Saunders this is an exciting transition.

He’s reunited with Hue Jackson, the former Ravens quarterbacks coach.

And the former Ravens senior offensive assistant is back in the Bay Area where he grew up as a ball boy for Al Davis, the enigmatic Raiders owner and former head coach.

“I’m really excited,” Saunders said Wednesday during the South team’s Senior Bowl practice. “Al Davis’ philosophy is he wants a strong running game and a vertical passing game, which is what I’ve always believed in. It’s exciting for me to be back in the Bay Area.

“That’s my home. I was a ball boy for Al Davis in 1963 back when he was the head football coach. So, I go back a long way with that team. When I was growing up, that was my team. It’s kind of exciting to be home.”

A former San Diego Chargers head coach, Washington Redskins assistant head coach and an offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams, Saunders coached Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell in Washington.

The Raiders ranked 10th in total offense last season, but only 23rd in passing offense with a 198.8 average per contest.

“We’ll all work together to get better,” Saunders said. “That’s a talented group of receivers and outstanding running backs. I worked with Jason Campbell for a few years and I kind of know his strengths and weaknesses.

“We’ve got an offensive line that’s very experienced. We were 10th in the NFL in offense last year, and we hope to continue an upward trend that way and score a lot of points. That’s kind of what we would like to do on offense.”

Jackson will retain play-calling duties, but Saunders will have a major voice in the game plan and direction of the offense.

“I’m really excited to be around Hue Jackson,” Saunders said. “He and I worked together in Baltimore, and he’s really an outstanding coach. I’m excited to be part of his staff and establish the kind of program he wants in Oakland.”

The Ravens slumped to 22nd in total offense last season after ranking 13th the previous season.

Under the direction of offensive coordinator Cam  Cameron, they averaged only 322.9 yards per game and 22.3 points last season.

Saunders expressed confidence that the Ravens offense will improve going forward.

Cameron drew heavy criticism, but wasn’t fired.

“First of all, they’ve got a great guy running it in Cam,” Saunders said. “Cam does a wonderful job running the offense. They’re a great staff. They’re a talented group. Joe Flacco’s going to be one of the premier quarterbacks in the league.

“Three years and three playoffs and deep in the playoffs this year, I think he’s got a tremendous upside and will continue to get better. Ray Rice, an outstanding veteran group of receivers and a veteran offensive line. They’ll continue to get better and be one of the dominant teams in the league.”


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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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